1. I’m not sure what to make of Grigor Dimitrov’s performance against Rafael Nadal. On one hand, he challenged Nadal, and took the first set pretty easily. On the other hand, he completely choked in both tiebreaks. I just don’t know if he has what it takes to close out big matches. I often think some players’ reputations as being chokers are overstated, but he really gets quite nervy trying to serve things out.
My other concern with Dimitrov’s game is the fact that he spent the whole time defending from well behind the baseline. Rafa wasn’t in peak form, and didn’t punish those short balls and Dimitrov’s court positioning like he could have. If Rafa had been playing well, it would’ve gotten ugly.
All that said, it was a nice performance at a slam from Dimitrov. A quarterfinal is a good showing for him. But as of now, I’m leaning more towards Dimitrov being Baby Gasquet than Baby Federer.
2. This is one way to celebrate winning a set:
3. This is unrelated to the Australian Open, but tennis related. I just finished reading A Terrible Splendor, a book by Marshall Jon Fisher telling the story of the fifth and deciding 1937 Davis Cup rubber between the United States and Germany, played by Don Budge and Gottfried von Cramm. While describing the political undercurrents of the match, it also tells the story of Bill Tilden’s double life and eventual breakdown and exile from the sport. It was a great read.
4. This exchange is fun:
Q. When you’re watching Stan’s matches, are you just watching it quietly or do you find yourself occasionally coming out with a, C’mon?
ROGER FEDERER: How much can I say here? I don’t know. I’m not sitting there all quiet, no. At the end I was standing up, hands in the air like him. That’s what it was, you know.
When he wins big points, yeah, I guess you do fist pump. I high five with Mirka. So it was good fun last night. We watched the entire fifth set together. Before I was watching more by myself. It was amazing.
5. I don’t think Federer has much of a chance to beat Nadal in the semifinal, but it’s been an impressive start to the year for Federer, considering how dire things started to look last year. I certainly didn’t expect him to defend his semifinal points at the Australian Open, particularly after seeing his draw. If he can maintain this form through the year, he should be back in the top 5, given how few points he has to defend, especially at Wimbledon and the US Open.
1. You’ve got to feel for poor Simona Halep. The World No. 11 (soon to enter the top 10 for the first time in her career once the new rankings come out) has already won five titles in her career, yet she’s been afforded very little Big Stage experience, particularly at the slams. At this very Australian Open, she made her Rod Laver Arena debut just yesterday against a very determined Dominika “Pome” Cibulkova.
Halep looked wildly uncomfortable out there, and though Cibulkova’s excellent execution and permanent aggression had much to do with it, it also seemed like Simona was a bit overwhelmed by the occasion. Still, these are all learning experiences for someone who’s still so very young. Plus, it will hard to do worse when given another chance.
2. What a magnificent performance Agnieszka Radwanska gifted us yesterday. She was at her very best: proactive in her own, sneaky way, and capable of producing some jaw-dropping shots. I thought she used some really good deep forehands down the line at the right time, and her return of serve was impeccable.
With that being said, it was worrying to see Victoria Azarenka have such a bad day with her usually reliable forehand. Just hours after Novak Djokovic crashed out of the Australian Open after a similarly uneven performance, it felt like Azarenka lost a lot of confidence on that most crucial shot. Victoria did manage to have a brief period of brilliance at the end of the second set, which reminded everyone just why she’s been able to dominate Radwanska for this long, but that form faded quite quickly.
It’ll be interesting to see how Azarenka responds to this latest setback. I’ve thought that her serving issues were threatening to undermine the rest of her game for a while now, and I sure hope that doesn’t happen.
3. I find it remarkable that Rafael Nadal won his match in four sets, despite being thoroughly mediocre for large portions of his match against Grigor Dimitrov. It’s proving to be a challenge to have to play with that popped blister in the palm of his left hand, and who can blame him – all the photos of it look disgusting, and it has to be extremely painful and uncomfortable to deal with that on his dominant racquet hand.
However, some of Nadal’s patchy form in the last two matches might also have to do with the fact that I don’t think he enjoys the way Laver plays during the day. I think he’s much more comfortable at night, when the conditions slow down and he has more time to inject his usual tonnage of spin on the ball. Also, it’s cooler, so his hand might not get as sweaty as earlier. It’s been during night sessions when he’s produced his best tennis at this Australian Open (particularly his virtuoso first set against Gael Monfils), so dodging the Dimitrov bullet today meant that he no longer has to worry about being out in the sun anymore; both the semifinal against Roger Federer and the final will be night session affairs.
4. Grigor Dimitrov impressed many, and with good reason. It seems that finally, the 22-year-old is ready to make a move into the top 20 (he’s currently at a career-high No. 22). I liked how comfortable he seemed during the first set yesterday, but once again his issues at the end of sets seemed to resurface. I do think it’s a very good sign that he starts matches well (take note, Jerzy Janowicz), but it’s the key moments in the middle of contests that still seem like a challenge for him.
No matter: this run to his first Slam quarterfinal is most definitely a step in the right direction, and something for Grigor to build on.
5. Roger Federer was absolutely unstoppable … for a set. Then, his match against Andy Murray became more of a struggle, reminiscent of the form he’s shown in the past year. I do think Federer defended at an incredibly high level (aided by the slower night session conditions), and for a set and change showcased his newfound willingness to be more proactive with second serve returns and play a coherent brand of tennis that sees him coming to net whenever he gets a good aggressive groundstroke in.
It should be said, however, that Andy Murray is not close to the kind of form that saw him win Wimbledon. The fact of the matter is that the Muzzard hasn’t really played a whole lot of matches recently, and none of them presented the kind of problems Federer does. I did love to see Andy try and compete as hard as he could, even if you could tell that his body wasn’t fully cooperating with what his head wanted to do.
I thought Murray did well to cool things off in the second set, and if it weren’t for a very, very loose game to get broken, that set seemed destined for a tiebreaker. Losing it might have doomed him, since being down two sets in just his second event after back surgery is a little too much to overcome.
Tactically, I did like how Murray seemed perfectly willing to step into the middle of the court and boss Federer around with his forehand. That change in attitude has been utterly productive for Andy, and it will always give him a chance to succeed against the very best.
I do worry about something the commentators pointed out: Murray’s average first serve speed dropped 16 km/h (or 10 mph) from Set 2 to Set 4. And watching him go up to serve, you could see that he was slicing almost every single first serve. Let’s hope his back merely got sore by the challenge of playing a top-10 level match and nothing more.
Back to Federer: I thought he played a big chunk of the big points in Sets 2 through 4 extremely passively. It was as if all the bravado from Set 1 magically vanished: gone were the drive backhand returns, and gone were the big forehands followed by net forages. To his credit, he still managed to serve quite effectively (though Andy’s rust was a factor here as well, particularly with second serve returns), and did manage to find enough good form to regain control of the match in the fourth set and finish what he was so close to achieving when he served for the match at 5-4 in the third.
Midway through the match Federer’s backhand was getting all sorts of plaudits on Twitter, and one wonders how that wing will fare now that it will face it’s ultimate test (and frequent tormentor) in two days time. We gonna see, no?
1. This was, for me, the day the tournament came alive. Or, should I say, the two days. Due to another writing gig I have not been able to keep Australian time as much as I would have liked, and therefore have missed a lot of the middle-of-the-night matches this tournament. I’ve not been able to experience a lot of the good stuff live.
But yesterday morning I woke up to watch the last two sets of Wawrinka-Djokovic, and then I made it almost all the way straight through the end of Day 10. (I dozed off a bit at the beginning of Fed/Muzz, I admit it.) I must say, I was thoroughly entertained. What a sport.
2. I’m a not-so-closeted Radwanska fan, and so to see her razzle and dazzle Azarenka like that was definitely a tournament highlight for me. I wrote a rambling essay about the match, but it’s safe to say that I was impressed. Can she win this whole thing? CAN SHE? OH GOD. I don’t know. But she certainly has a great shot.
3. For Sports on Earth, I wrote about Genie and her impressive confidence.
4. I get that people are disappointed because of how Dimitrov faded at the end of his match against Nadal, but I could not be more impressed with the performance he put on today. He is transitioning from a boy to a man in front of our eyes, and he’s finally starting to show signs of playing the type of tennis that will make him a factor in the late stages of these tournaments.
But, most importantly, I was impressed by his attitude. He was gutted after the match, and sounded eager and determined to go back to the drawing board and get better.
Q. Do you think you’ll look back on this match as an opportunity that got away or a step forward in your progression?
GRIGOR DIMITROV: Well, there’s a lot of mixed feelings right now. I’m a bit shattered. It’s tough losing that match, my first quarterfinal. I came out expecting nothing less than to win.
All the credit to Rafa. He’s been a tremendous competitor, great guy off the court. We had a great battles the past year and now again, and hopefully in the future more.
The one thing I’m really excited is to actually get back on the court in the upcoming weeks and start working and come up to the same stage and try to do it again.
Of course I’m deeply disappointed. I mean, I’m not going to lie. But, you know, in the end of the day I have to take the positives and the negatives out of the match and just kind of move on.
5. Cibulkova was just fantastically composed and aggressive in her quarterfinal match against a deer-in-headlights Halep, and she was rewarded with the second major semifinal birth of her career. Yes, that’s right, the second semi. Cibulkova first pome’d onto the scene back in 2009, when, at 19, she made the semis of the French Open by taking out Maria Sharapova in straight sets in the quarterfinals. Since she’s been on the scene for so long, it’s easy to forget that Cibulkova is still only 24 years old and has a lot of great years of tennis ahead of her.
This is a golden opportunity for her, facing Radwanska in the semifinals, and I expect her to come out firing.
As for Halep, well, I mean, I don’t even know what to say about that. Learn from it. Do better next time.
6. Good for Roger Federer. For almost three full sets, he looked like he was once again ready for primetime, as he simply took the racket out of Andy Murray’s hands. But, of course, he’s Olderer these days, and so he had to make things complicated by getting broken while serving out the third set, losing match points in the tiebreaker, and then wasting approximately 1,000 break points in the fourth set.
There are a lot of positives that Federer and his fans can take from this match–most importantly that he’s playing well and winning tight matches again. This is his 11th-straight Australian Open semifinal appearance, a ridiculous stat, and his fairly easy wins over Tsonga and Murray should give him a lot of confidence going forward, no matter what happens with Nadal on Friday.
And, well, Mr. Murray is clearly still on the comeback trail, and I hope that his back will rebound from all of this–it really can’t be an easy job to be Andy Murray’s back. For a guy who is known for his intense off-season conditioning, it must have been tough on him to not be able to be in peak condition headed into a major that he’s come so close to winning so many times. But I thought he showed some positive signs, and there’s reason to be optimistic for a full return to form.